System camera, compact camera, bridge camera or single lens reflex – which one is right for you? We have tested over dozens of cameras to help you find the right model.
A snapshot to share on Facebook or Instagram? The fastest way to do this is with a smartphone. But if you want to bring great pictures from your vacation or hang your photos in large format on the wall, it is better to use a digital camera. Fully sized motifs thanks to zoom, better image quality thanks to flash or larger sensors, many more setting options and a particularly short response time: there are plenty of reasons for digital snapshots. We have tested dozens of digital cameras and presents which cameras are the best – suitable for every photographer and every subject.
- Test winner : Sony Alpha 1
- Top system camera in full format: Nikon Z5
- This is how we test digital cameras
- The best compact cameras
- Small snaps: compact cameras
- Test winner: Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VII
- The best bridge cameras
- Lots of zoom in one hand: bridge cameras
- Test winner: Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 II
- The best SLR cameras
- A crystal clear view of the subject: SLR cameras
- Top full-frame SLR: Nikon D780
- Top SLR for action photos: Nikon D500
- What is the best compact digital camera?
- Which digital camera for beginners?
- Which is better - system camera or single lens reflex?
- Optical or electronic viewfinder?
- Which digital camera for filming and for YouTube?
- Lenses for single-lens reflex and system cameras
- Which camera is best for travel?
- Conclusion digital cameras comparison
- The best system cameras in comparison
Test winner : Sony Alpha 1
- Extremely high burst speed
- Very fast and very precise autofocus
- Very high price
Quite expensive, but also great : The Sony Alpha 1 costs a lot (only the case costs 7,300 euros at the time of the test!), Is a real all-rounder, regardless of whether it is photo or video, whether studio or action recordings, it always delivers recordings in Top quality. The continuous shooting speed of almost 30 frames per second with simultaneous sharpness and exposure adjustment makes the SLR competition look old, but it also fills the memory card quickly, just like video recordings in 8K. It is worthwhile to use the faster CFexpress cards in order to transfer the huge amounts of data more quickly. A tribute to the 8K high resolution of 50 megapixels of the Sony Alpha 1: With a very high ISO setting, the image sharpness suffers a little more than with cameras with a lower resolution.
Top system camera in full format: Nikon Z5
- Top image quality even in very little light
- Very large, very detailed viewfinder
- 4K video only as an excerpt
- Low burst speed
Simple operation, top image quality and a really good viewfinder – the Nikon Z5 will satisfy even the most demanding photographers. The new mini zoom is astonishingly small and astonishingly good – in terms of image quality it can compete with significantly more expensive optics. Z5 photographers only have to compromise on two things: the speed of the series images is low and the Nikon Z5 does not use the entire sensor for 4K videos, but films with pixel accuracy. In return, the Nikon Z5 shows that a current system camera with a full-frame sensor (Sensor size roughly the same as for 35.9 millimeters) does not have to be expensive: It is available as a housing for around 1,250 euros, with a zoom for around 1,400 euros (price at the time of the test).
This is how we test digital cameras
Regardless of whether it is a professional system camera for over 7,000 euros or a small compact camera – all digital cameras have to face the same complex test course. It starts with an elaborate determination of the photo quality in daylight (1,000 lux), a little less light (300 lux) and dim light (60 lux). We use special test templates from Image Engineering as well as particularly color-accurate lighting with professional LED lights. This enables, for example, resolution, color fidelity or image noise to be measured very precisely. Measured values alone are only half the battle when it comes to image quality, because in practice it happens again and again that camera manufacturers optimize the camera electronics specifically for measured values. This then ensures great readings without the images necessarily looking better.
Therefore, recordings of a test scene are made with each camera and the images are compared on a color-calibrated monitor. In addition, there is an assessment of the video quality. We record a video with interior lighting and then evaluates the image and sound quality. The equipment of the camera is also extensively checked: For example, it is determined how fast the camera is for series shots, how quickly and precisely the auto-focus adjusts the focus or how well the image stabilizer prevents blurred images. Practical exams take up a large part of the test, for example: How easy is it to operate the camera, how well it can be controlled via the app, or how long does the battery last when filming in 4K.
The best compact cameras
- Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VI compact camera
- Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VII compact camera
- Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX0
- Panasonic Lumix DC-TZ202
- Sony ZV-1
- Canon PowerShot G7X Mark III
- Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II compact camera
- Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III black
- Panasonic Lumix DC-TZ96 (DC-TZ95)
- Panasonic Lumix DC-TZ91
Small snaps: compact cameras
A camera that can do everything but is not thick? That’s a job for a compact camera. Everything you need for photos and videos is in there, including flash and zoom. Manufacturers are always coming up with new things to keep the smartphone competition at a distance, for example they build in giant zooms, particularly bright lenses, larger image sensors or a viewfinder.
Test winner: Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VII
- High image quality
- Very high burst speed
- High price
- Slightly smaller viewfinder
The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VII (price at the time of testing 1,100 euros) is very compact and light (weight 302 grams with battery and memory card), but still comes with a very bright zoom (maximum aperture 2.8 to 4.5 depending on the set Focal length) with a large focal length range (25-200 millimeters converted into 35mm format) and a large 1-inch sensor (sensor size 8.8×13.2 millimeters). Compared to conventional compact cameras, this combination ensures a significant leap in image quality with sharper and more detailed images that also cope better with high-contrast subjects – such as the subtle differences in brightness in clouds. You can see that in daylight. The photos and videos of the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VII do not have to hide from full-blown system cameras or SLR models.
The best bridge cameras
- Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ1000 II
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ2000
- Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 Mark III
- Nikon Coolpix P950
- Nikon COOLPIX P1000
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ82
- Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX350
- Nikon Coolpix B600
- Nikon Coolpix B500
Lots of zoom in one hand: bridge cameras
Bridge cameras existed before the invention of the modern digital camera. The name was originally intended to suggest that the cameras were mostly located between the (inexpensive) compact cameras for hobby photographers and the (expensive) SLR models for professionals – as a bridge. In the digital age, the meaning has changed slightly. Bridge cameras are outwardly similar to a single lens reflex or system camera, but differ from them in terms of the built-in lens and smaller sensors. Some manufacturers also use the term superzoom for their bridge cameras. The most important difference in addition to the larger and more handy housing to a compact camera is the larger zoom range: For models with a small sensor, like the Nikon Coolpix P1000up to 125x zoom range, for models with 1-inch sensor up to 25x ( Sony Cyber-shot RX10 III and RX10 IV ).
Test winner: Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 II
- High image quality
- Responsive autofocus
- Quite big and heavy
The Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 II is a chunk that has it all : The superzoom camera reacts very quickly and its 16x zoom also displays distant subjects in full format. The comparatively large 1-inch sensor delivers really good photos and videos, and the viewfinder is nice and large and bright. The price of 750 euros (price at the time of the test) is completely okay.
The best SLR cameras
- Nikon D6
- Canon EOS-1D X Mark III
- Nikon D780
- Nikon D500
- Nikon D850
- Nikon D5
- Pentax K-3 Mark III
- Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
- Canon EOS-1D X Mark II
- Canon 850D
A crystal clear view of the subject: SLR cameras
With a SLR you always get a slightly larger camera that no longer fits in your jacket pocket as easily as most compact cameras. But size is not a disadvantage in this case: even models for beginners are comfortable to hold thanks to large handles and offer enough space for large displays, dials and buttons. In this way, the camera settings can be quickly adjusted if you don’t want to take photos with the fully automatic function. The image sensors are much larger than in cell phones or compact cameras and collect so much more light. This ensures a better picture quality. This becomes particularly clear with larger prints and when taking pictures in low light – the pictures look really good even in dim light. The larger sensor has another side effect that is great for portraits: When the aperture is open, the depth of field is comparatively small – this makes it very easy to separate the subject and the background. Also always with you: a viewfinder. This means that a closer look at the subject is possible even in bright sunshine when only reflections can be seen on the display. An advantage over many inexpensive compact and system cameras, which often do without a viewfinder for reasons of cost.
Top full-frame SLR: Nikon D780
- High image quality for photos and videos
- High image quality in low light
- Auto focus audible during videos
The Nikon D780 is an all-round successful mixture: The very solid housing lies comfortably in the hand, operation is very easy for experienced photographers, only the abundance of functions requires a little manual study from time to time. The 24-megapixel sensor of the D780 scores in any light – even with ISO 6400 see the pictures look good. In addition, it has a fast phase change autofocus, an advantage when taking photos and filming in LiveView. For sports and action photos, the photographer is best looking through the viewfinder. Then there is a fairly fast and very precise autofocus – only the top professional models are better! And they are significantly more expensive than one Nikon D780 – The case is available for around 1,950 euros, with zoom from around 2,450 euros (price at the time of the test).
Top SLR for action photos: Nikon D500
- Very fast and accurate auto focus
- High image quality for photos and videos
- Auto focus audible during videos
- 4K video only as an excerpt
A real alternative to the outrageously expensive professional cameras with full-frame sensors: The Nikon D500 is very fast ( 9.5 frames per second ) and persistent in series. The autofocus works extremely quickly and very precisely, even in low light and when the subject is moving quickly. In its price class, the D500 is unrivaled when it comes to focus tracking – only top professional models such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III , the Nikon D6 or the Sony Alpha 1 are a bit better and much more expensive with housing prices above 6,000 euros. The Nikon D500 , on the other hand, costs around 1,490 euros as a housing, with a zoom starting at around 2,100 euros (price at the time of the test). The image quality of the D500is great, even in low light. Thanks to 4K, the videos look very detailed.
What is the best compact digital camera?
The most important advantage of a digital camera over smartphones: an optical zoom is almost always part of the equipment. This ranges from the wide angle for narrow streets or larger groups to the telephoto setting, which also fills the frame with distant subjects. Bridge cameras such as the Canon Powershot SX540 HS ( 50x zoom) or the Nikon Coolpix B600 ( 60x zoom) achieve extreme telephoto ranges . The massive Coolpix models Nikon Coolpix P950 and Nikon Coolpix P1000 even bring an 83x ( P950 ) and a 125x zoom ( P1000) with. But even extremely compact models that easily disappear in a jacket pocket offer plenty of scope for enlargement – the Panasonic Lumix TZ96 has a 30x zoom . The equally compact Nikon Coolpix A1000 has a 35x zoom, the Canon Powershot SX740 HSeven a 40x zoom. For portraits, a slight telephoto is better than a smartphone wide-angle lens, the proportions look more natural. There is no real zoom lens with current cell phones: Their digital zoom functions have to trick with several lenses and sensors and either offer significantly smaller zoom ranges or only bring distant subjects in full format with a significant loss of quality. In addition, simpler sensors are often built into the additional lenses – which are often slightly poorer than the main sensor in terms of image quality: a disadvantage, for example, when taking telephoto photos.
Which digital camera for beginners?
Beginners and amateur photographers can often get along faster with cheap cameras. Why? On the one hand, they almost always offer a fully automatic function (usually marked in green on the program selection dial), in which the device makes all the settings itself. On the other hand, there are fewer setting options that users first have to learn. Rule of thumb: the more the camera costs, the more buttons, wheels and setting options make important functions accessible more quickly. This takes some time to get used to, but then allows you to adjust the camera settings quickly and precisely to your own ideas, without time-consuming trips to the camera menu – for example with the Fujifilm X-Pro3 , the Nikon Z6 II or the Sony Alpha 9 II . More expensive cameras like that The Fujifilm X-H1 , the Nikon D7500 or the Panasonic Lumix S1 often have additional displays on the top of the camera; you can see the most important camera settings at a glance. If you like to determine yourself which measuring point the camera focuses, you can move it with the help of an extra joystick . It’s more accurate than tapping the camera screen. With top cameras like the Fujifilm X-T3 , the Fujifilm X-T4 , the Olympus OM-D E-M1 III , the Nikon D500 or the Sony Alpha 7 III , the auto focus joystick is standard equipment, as is the case with the new full-frame cameras. System cameras Canon EOS R5 and Canon EOS R6 . The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III also offers an optical sensor – useful when the photographer: is wearing gloves. Fujifilm is the only manufacturer to equip all new models with a joystick, even cheaper models such as the Fujifilm X-A7 or the Fujifilm X-T200 – this creates space for a larger display on the back, because the usual key pad can be omitted.
Which is better – system camera or single lens reflex?
If you are looking for a particularly versatile camera, you will quickly end up with a SLR or system camera, for which there is a wide range of lenses and accessories. The trend is clearly towards system cameras – most of the innovations are promptly available here, especially with the lenses. Anyone who photographs a lot of sport is still better off using digital single lens reflex cameras (DSLR, digital single lens reflex) – they usually track the sharpness better than system cameras. The best here is the Nikon D6, closely followed by the Canon EOS-1 X Mark III , followed by the somewhat older Canon models Canon EOS-1D X Mark II , Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and Canon EOS 7D Mark II as well as the Nikon D5 andD500 . The Sony Alpha 9 and Alpha 9 II and the new top model Sony Alpha 1 – with an (compared to the Alpha 9 models) even better autofocus – are among the few exceptions that are as fast and accurate as a professional game reflex . It recognizes the subject better than any SLR and is almost as good as the current front-runner in this discipline, the Nikon D6 , when it comes to focus tracking . A real SLR advantage: the cameras usually last longer. They can also be used to take pictures of an entire football game without changing the battery. Current models like the Canon EOS 90D or the Nikon D780 can do it quickly3,000 photos or more on one charge . This often only works with system cameras if a battery grip with one or two additional batteries is attached to the camera.
Optical or electronic viewfinder?
Advantage of a SLR: The photographer looks directly through the lens; the viewfinder image is always instantaneous. When it gets dark, the viewfinder image of these cameras darkens according to the ambient light. This does not happen with a system camera – it shows the image before it is taken, such as the approximate exposure and color representation. For this, system cameras always need a few milliseconds for image processing. With current models such as the Panasonic Lumix S1 or the Fujifilm X-T3 and good light, you hardly see a delay, especially when the viewfinder has a higher refresh rateworks – there are 85 to 240 instead of the usual 60 frames per second. With a high refresh rate, the viewfinder consumes more power, so this function is usually switched off at the factory and must be activated in the camera menu. Sometimes the resolution is reduced in favor of the speed, for example with the Sony Alpha 1 , when the viewfinder is set at 240 frames per secondis working. With the standard settings, the viewfinder image can jerk when the camera is panned quickly, especially older system cameras do not manage to process the images quickly enough. The viewfinder image may also be jerky when it gets so dark that the sensor can no longer read 60 images per second with sufficient brightness and therefore reduces the refresh rate. If you want to know how the exposure or white balance will turn out with a SLR, you have to switch to LiveView and take photos using the built-in display.
Which digital camera for filming and for YouTube?
4K videos (3840×2160 pixels) offer significantly more details: The clips usually look better, especially with a UHD television, but also on a monitor or TV set with full HD resolution or uploading the video to YouTube . If you are looking for a camera for filming with 4K resolution, you will find a particularly large selection at Panasonic. 4K-compatible devices are already available in the compact class, such as the Panasonic Lumix TZ96 and the Panasonic Lumix TZ91 . If you like to play with depth of field, take a model with a larger sensor such as the Panasonic Lumix TZ202 , the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 II or the Panasonic Lumix LX15 – or a system camera: even the smallest current device, thePanasonic Lumix GX880 , films in 4K. Panasonic specialty: Many slightly more expensive models such as the Panasonic Lumix FZ2000 bridge camera and the Panasonic Lumix G91 system camera film almost endlessly – until the battery is empty or the memory card is full. Only a few other competitors, such as the Sony Alpha 6600 , can do that ; most digital cameras record a maximum of 30 minutes at a time. Sony also has a wide range of models that record videos in 4K. These include expensive full-frame system cameras such as the Sony Alpha 7R III and Alpha 9 , but also compact cameras such as the Sony Cyber-shot RX10 III and Cyber-shot RX100 VII. The best 4K video quality is currently provided by the full-frame system cameras Nikon Z6 (and Z6 II ), Panasonic Lumix S1 and Sony Alpha 7 III and the Nikon D780 single-lens reflex model , which uses the same sensor as the Z6 – they use the full resolution for video recording of the sensor and then calculate this down to 4K. They are best suited for videos with particularly shallow depth of field and in low light. The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III and the Panasonic Lumix S1H are a bit oversized for holiday videos – they can even film in 5.5K (Canon, 5472×2886 pixels) and 6K (Panasonic, 6000×4000 pixels). The Canon EOS R5 currently delivers the most detailed videos with 8K (resolution in Cinema 8K 8192×4320 or in 8K 7680×4320 pixels). The Sony Alpha 1 also manages 8K .
Lenses for single-lens reflex and system cameras
The biggest advantage of SLR and system cameras is the interchangeable lens. For portraits , for example, a bright short telephoto is perfect. Good lenses such as Canon EF 50mm f1.8 STM or Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f1.8G are available from around 110 euros. With an APS-C camera like the Canon EOS 2000D or the Nikon D3500 , their focal lengths are around 80 millimeters (converted to 35mm format). This means that portraits with a blurred background (bokeh effect) can be achieved with a small budget – smartphones do not manage this or do it not so nicely, despite portrait mode in many newer phones such as the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Maxor the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra . System camera owners don’t get away that cheap, but still don’t have to pay huge sums for a portrait lens: For 200 euros there is the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45mm f1.8 or the Panasonic Lumix G 42.5mm f1.7 OIS for Micro -Four Thirds cameras from Panasonic as well as Olympus and the Sony E 50mm f1.8 OSS for APS-C cameras like the Sony Alpha 6400 . Lenses for the full format like the Nikon Nikkor Z 85mm f1.8 S or the Sony FE 85mm f1.8are significantly larger and heavier, here photographers have to budget more likely 500 euros and more. All major camera manufacturers offer dozens of interchangeable lenses. In addition, there are lenses from special manufacturers such as Tamron, Tokina, Sigma, and Zeiss.
Which camera is best for travel?
If you want to travel with little baggage, it is best to take a compact camera – which one is the most suitable depends on the travel destination and the subjects you want to shoot. If you want to capture distant subjects in full format, take a camera like the Panasonic Lumix TZ96 with a large zoom range. If you want to take photos and film a lot in dim light while on vacation, cameras like the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VII with a large 1-inch sensor are the right choice. And those who take photos or film mainly on the beach or by the pool, take a weatherproof camera such as the Nikon Coolpix W300 , Olympus Tough TG-6 or Panasonic Lumix FT7 – they are available for less than 400 euros.
Conclusion digital cameras comparison
A recommended digital camera doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. It starts at just under 300 euros for the Canon Powershot SX540 HS . Spending more money can still be worthwhile, because more expensive models such as the Panasonic Lumix TZ96 , for example, have a built-in viewfinder or come with a larger sensor, such as the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VII , which ensures a higher image quality. A single lens reflex or a system camera offers even more options because the lens can be exchanged here. That can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. The cheapest model is the Canon EOS 2000D at around 350 euros, the best of the best is currently the Sony Alpha 1which is a good 20 times more expensive – a real professional tool. The Nikon Z5 , which is available with a lens for just under 1,400 euros , shows that a great camera with full-format image quality does not have to cost the world .
The best system cameras in comparison
|1.||Sony Alpha 1||1.5|
|2.||Nikon Z 6II||1.6|
|3.||Nikon Z 7II||1.6|
|4||Canon EOS R5||1.6|
|6||Canon EOS R6||1.7|
|9.||Panasonic Lumix DC-S5||1.8|
|10.||Panasonic Lumix DC-S1R||1.8|